Tri-Cities priest arrested on suspicion of rape

Yakima Herald-Republic [Yakima WA]

September 7, 2022

By Cory McCoy, Tri-City Herald

A Tri-Cities priest has been arrested on suspicion of rape.

Rev. Tomás Vázquez Téllez, 49, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of third-degree rape with an aggravating factor of being a person of trust. Vázquez Téllez has been serving at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Pasco since September 2021.

Before that he was the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kennewick before stepping down in April 2020 to begin a sabbatical to study biblical languages, according to a new release from the Diocese of Yakima. He was an associate pastor in Sunnyside for three years and spent one year at Holy Family in Yakima before serving at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Ellensburg from 2009-16, according to the diocese.

Vázquez Téllez was booked into the Benton County jail after being arrested at his home. According to the diocese, the suspected sexual assault happened on Aug. 19-20.

According to the diocese, a woman in her 30s told diocese officials that she had been invited to Vázquez Téllez’s home for dinner last month, a few weeks before he was set to travel to Jerusalem for the three-month study program. The trip had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The woman reported that she had developed a friendship with Vázquez Téllez, including lunches and dinners together, but that the priest had never made romantic overtures before, according to the news release. She reportedly considered him a friend she could confide in. She said she was raped by Vázquez Téllez after the dinner and went home after waking up the next morning. She contacted another priest within hours of the incident to report it, according to the diocese.

Vázquez Téllez was ordered by the diocese to cease all public ministry and was prohibited from leaving the country during the investigation.

“We are shocked and saddened by these developments,” Yakima Diocese Bishop Joseph J. Tyson said. “I am grateful that the woman came forward immediately and trusted another of our priests well enough to confide in him and to bring this matter to light.”

According to the diocese, under church law Vázquez Téllez is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and will receive salary and benefits from the diocese while he awaits a resolution of any criminal charges in court, but the church will not pay for his legal defense. He is also required to check in daily with another priest from the diocese.

Anyone with information about this matter is encouraged to contact the Kennewick Police Department’s non-emergency number at 509-585-4208.

The Yakima Herald-Republic contributed reporting.